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Armenian parliament elects protest leader Nikol Pashinyan as prime minister

Karen Minasyan, AFP | Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan addresses lawmakers during a parliament session to elect a new prime minister in Yerevan on May 8, 2018.

Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan was elected as Armenia's new prime minister on Tuesday, capping a peaceful revolution driven by weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism in the ex-Soviet republic.

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The election of Pashinyan, a former newspaper editor who spent time in prison for fomenting unrest, marks a rupture with the cadre of rulers who have run Armenia since the late 1990s.

He spearheaded a protest movement that first forced veteran prime minister Serzh Sarksyan to step down on April 23 and then pressured the ruling party to abandon attempts to block his election as prime minister, the country's most powerful post.

Moscow, which has a military base in Armenia, is wary of an uncontrolled change of power which would pull the country out of its orbit, but Pashinyan has offered assurances that he will not break with the Kremlin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Pashinyan on his election. "I hope that your activity as the head of the government will contribute to the further strengthening of friendly, allied relations between our countries," he said in a statement published by the Kremlin.

>> Read more: Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan, the man who took down Armenia’s prime minister

In a vote in parliament on Tuesday, 59 lawmakers backed Pashinyan's candidacy, including some from the ruling Republican Party, with 42 voting against.

In a vote last week, the Republican Party blocked Pashinyan, but it said on Tuesday it had decided to get behind him for the sake of unity and the good of the nation.

Gulliver Cragg reports from Yerevan

A central square in the capital, where Pashinyan's supporters gathered to watch the voting on huge television screens, erupted into joy when the result was shown. The tens of thousands of people in Republic Square shouted "Nikol!" and white doves were released into the air. People hugged and kissed each other.

"I'm the happiest person in the world," said Shogik, a 17-year-old Pashinyan supporter.

>> Watch: Armenia's poorest pin hopes on Pashinyan’s election

Armenia is a country of about three million people nestling in mountains between Turkey and Iran.

Pashinyan's protest movement was sparked when Sarksyan, barred by the constitution from seeking another term as president, became prime minister instead. Many Armenians saw that as a cynical ploy by Sarskyan to extend his hold on power.

The protests led by Pashinyan, wearing his trademark camouflage T-shirt and military-style cap, channelled a sense among many Armenians that corruption and cronyism was rife in the ruling elite.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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